When the interested don’t show up

A week ago now, Jenett wrote a good post about seeker responsibility and follow-through, discussing interested seekers who disappear, either by never showing on their first meeting or failing to follow through on later RSVPs. Back when I was trying to do any sort of local Pagan networking I did run into occasional no-shows myself when someone would want to meet one-on-one before coming to the coffee-shop get-togethers.

Now, ADF orients itself toward open events, so I do not frequently try to meet people one-on-one these days. At the same time, not everyone who says they will come shows up. I’ve occasionally learned mild tolerance for PST is useful (which is why I announce the start of the pre-ritual briefing; if you show up late, you wind up a bit more clueless about what is happening) — but it can be easy to delay too long because there were five more people who said they were coming, but haven’t shown up yet, and then don’t. I sometimes forget that delaying for stragglers only encourages the behavior.

As Jenett points out, the reasons why vary widely — you can come up with many reasons they didn’t show, and it’s not worth worrying about except in terms of keeping a person’s reliability in mind for the long run.

At the same time, some possibilities can be minimized. One possible Beltane attendee got lost along the way to the site. There wasn’t any cell phone reception around the Beltane site due to the local hills, so a cell phone call for directions would have been useless. One thing I’ve been contemplating is building some folding sandwich-board signs with a large “ADF”, an arrow, and perhaps a logo as well  that can be placed to point the way on the last two or three turns.

Beltane, and the turnout is surprising

Beltane is not one of my historical top-form group rites. Beltane in my hands is often not as well-planned. There are a number of reasons for this. It comes right on the heels of Trillium, so it’s easy to forget how soon it is and just focus on Trillium. It’s also in the time of year when the weather truly tilts towards reliably nice to spend time outside. The rain stops being low-effort sleet, so being caught in a cloudburst a few miles from the car isn’t such a big deal. Also, the allergens start, so it’s not all positives on my side. It also isn’t as big a deal locally as it is other places for one major reason: Beltane comes right at finals time at PSU. Professors and students alike stress over the completion of the semester, and don’t have time.

Given all of this, I did not go into this year’s Beltane with specifically high hopes. Email advertising had gone out late, and I felt like I was racing to the rite without the preparation needed.

Until the day before, when I discovered I’d somehow gotten on-target with getting the needed offerings together, had a workable rite, and found myself picking up three people from the State College area to carpool to an undisclosed rural location (i.e. Pennsylvania Furnace). Of the three, one was a UU regular; one was someone from my Pagan Meetup days who had developed an interest in ADF; one was a student athlete who had only experienced rites as a family thing.

So we drove out to Pennsylvania Furnace, and met a fifth. I was reminded of the one thing I’d forgotten: sunset comes early. The brief amount of pre-ritual socializing grew long because I felt ahead of the game — I’d picked up three people from scattered State College locations and rolled in well in advance of the start time — so we abruptly hurried out with less of a pre-ritual briefing than I would have preferred.

This year was an improved version of last year’s Gaulish Beltane, drawing on the work of Three Cranes Grove but with the general structure I’ve been using in State College. Sirona and Belenos were honored — this year I had some fine jewelry for Sirona, to ensure things went well. The rite flowed well — a few minor hinks with the cueing, but that’s not unexpected. To my surprise, everyone had a Praise Offering.

Then it was time to draw the runes for acceptance of the offering, and I pulled Nauthiz, Need. That’s a No in my book. I was flummoxed, as I thought I’d planned well, so I asked what was needed and pulled another rune. Kenaz, Torch. Something needed to burn.

One person put more wood on the fire, as I scrambled to see if there was anything left of the oil. There wasn’t, but I discovered something was missing. As part of the turn from Winter to Summer, I had a red candle shaped like an autumn oak leaf to give during the Prayer of Sacrifice. I had forgotten that it was specifically there for that purpose, and it had hidden itself underneath things. I pulled it out, placed it in the fire, and drew another rune for acceptance. Raidho, Wagon. I interpereted this as a positive, but an incremental, moving forward one.

I then drew runes for each of the three Kindreds. The Ancestors gave Ansuz (the God Odin), Ehwaz (Horse), and Laguz (Lake). I saw this, in context, as a journey to the underworld to communicate with the ancestors, or perhaps the need to be flexible in our communication and journey. The Nature Spirits gave us Jera (Year), Dagaz (Day), and Sowilo (Sun). I interpreted this as powerful growth over the next year. Then it was time to ask the Gods and Goddesses, and I pulled Othala (Ancestral Lands), Uruz (the wild Aurochs), and Thurisaz (Thorn). I said this was a blessing with the power of our birthright, but a warning to avoid using it hostilely. This runecast seemed to evoke positive feelings.

After the rite it was time for a potluck, which unintentionally came out as Mexican food. Much discussion was had but the student needed to prepare for finals, so I drove the three that came with me back to State College, with some discussion as we went.

As I drove home, I reflected upon the pleasant surprise of the rite. Beltane in a historical context has aspects of purification, and in a modern context fertility is highlighted, but perhaps both of these things are actually renewal.

The Importance of Festivals

I went to Trillium Gathering last weekend. I’ve waxed before about the importance of festivals to individual spirituality; that experience of being immersed in a group of people with similar practices is a tonic, even if you miss every scheduled workshop and rite. Add in a smattering of workshops and rites, and your practice can go in new directions — or sometimes you can find out something isn’t of interest before spending a lot of time exploring it.

For the Pagan seeking to found a group, however, festivals have even greater importance. The beginner at leading a given ritual format can find out they are doing it right (or wrong) without having to directly expose their uncertainties. The experienced Pagan can network, giving their nascent group a face that others will pass along. The person assembling a new personal religion — all group organizers, of course, but some more than others — can present their ideas to a clean slate. In all cases, ideas can be blended, grow, and be refined, whether from a workshop discussion or a late-night chat in front of a fire. All of these things can be done online to some degree, but there are advantages to the in-person exchange. What sounds good “on electrons” may not have that swing when performed.

Plus that tonic aspect can be very useful when a group organizer feels a bit drawn.

End of Year One & Ostara

Hemlock Vales Protogrove, ADF was officially approved on 3/22/07, which makes this the last hour of the last day of Hemlock Vales’ first year as an official Ar nDraiocht Fein Protogrove. There have been some ups and some downs; days when I felt everything was going well, and days when I questioned why I’d bothered. As we head into year two, I’m already leaning more towards finding interest via other means. Celebrating the High Days is great, but there needs to be more there — a larger understanding of ADF’s perspective, and even more social bonding. Post-rite potlucks do help with that, but that only works for the people who are there.

Our first rite was an Ostara rite with five in attendance; this year, there were three. Though I’m not certain scheduling the rite for tomorrow would have prompted more turnout, I am certain it wouldn’t have prompted less, as only the two regulars showed. With a death possibly impeding one person’s attendance, I know this is how things can go — but it was during one of the weekends bookending Spring Break.

There were some slight speedbumps in preparing for the rite. Most notably, I accidentally cracked (but did not break) a jar of grain loading it into my car. I was at a loss for why a slight bump like it received cracked it, until I discovered the stone Well was on the other side. I will have to plan more carefully when loading ritual gear into canvas bags for transport; I’d never had this happen before and so had become complacent. Fortunately, when I arrived at the UU fellowship one of the regulars helped me remove the grain and recycle the broken jar.

The rite itself flowed fairly well, as one might expect with the regulars present; in fact, it flowed rather quickly in hindsight, taking under half an hour. I was surprised, but even the regular that often has difficulties was following along well. This is, of course, the sort of thing that tempts me to “mix things up” a bit for the next rite. Most notably, I’m thinking about adapting my usually-private Walpurgisnacht celebration for group use in lieu of Beltane being, well, Beltane.

The omens were reasonable, and I think reflected the functional nature the rite had:

Acceptance: Tiwaz, the God Tyr (involved in War and Justice, among
other things). I said it was accepted, but just so, like a balance.

Ancestors: Dagaz, Day; Nauthiz, Need; Wunjo, Joy. A day for getting
what we need to bring us joy, but also a request to remember them.

Nature Spirits: Eihwaz, Yew Tree; Fehu, Cattle; Uruz, Aurochs –
Growth, but with a need to have the proper vision to direct it (lest
it trample other things).

Gods & Goddesses: Ingwaz, the God Freyr; Ehwaz, Horse; Isa, Ice –
Fertility, to boast about before the first frost.

I won’t deny I was disappointed with the turnout, but the omens were good while pointing to things to be done, so I’m pleased overall.


Here’s a secret of mine: I dislike writing the email announcements for upcoming rites. I’m not certain why, exactly; I think part of it is that in addition to announcing on a local list and Witchvox, I also post announcements on a number of regional lists — one for Central Pennsylvania, two for Pennsylvania itself, and one for ADF’s Heartland region (PA is the eastern outpost of it; it’s actually faster for me to get to Trillium Gathering, in northern Virginia, than to get to the Ohio border).

I suspect it may be that I feel I’m reiterating the information on the additional lists without people necessarily getting anything out of it. Part of it, I know, is to make certain others across the state are aware there is a group in this area, for word-of-mouth.

Perhaps I should show off the most recent email announcement, more or less . The level of detail varies based on the region; the PA lists know what “State College” means, but the Heartland region might have more than one.

Subject: HVP Ostara 3/15 11:00am (State College, PA)

Hemlock Vales Protogrove, ADF will be holding an Ostara rite at
11:00am on Saturday, March 15th. It will be in Room 1 at the
Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Centre County, in State College.
There is a map with arrows at http://www.uufcc.com/smap.shtml — note
that they are off the traffic circle at the end of Waupelani Dr.

Web page: [Edit: defunct website]
Phone number: Feel free to call me at 814-321-5521 with any questions
or last minute directions help.
Email to: hemlockvalesadf@gmail.com

So, I wonder: good? bad? more info? less?

On timing

Strangely, it seems I haven’t posted about the timing of rites yet.

Earrach* of Pittsburgh has a lovely essay about accuracy of timing on the Sassafras Grove site as well as an essay about correcting calendar drift on the cross-quarters. Timing is useful; a Walpurgisnacht Rite I did as night turned to day May first was a stand-out ritual experience for me.

This year, the vernal equinox is in the early hours of the 20th. We are planning a celebration on the 15th. Why? Why give in to convenience to the point where we’re using the more distant bounding Saturday?

I’d love to give a pat answer like “just as we define our ritual space as being at the sacred center, we define the ritual time as being at the sacred time for the ritual.” (Actually, there’s something to work with there, even though I’m not certain it’s really Indo-European.)

Instead, I’ll give a different answer: it’s about the community. If I’m celebrating ritual at 1:48am on the 20th, I’m likely celebrating alone. Indeed, the convenient times on the 19th and 20th of this month are have other events at the the Unitarian-Universalist fellowship, our preferred space (Beltane will likely be outside). The 22nd, though desirable for reasons of proximity, won’t work as well, at least in part due to the schedule impact of other holidays that weekend.

So just as we stretch ourselves as a people to reach for the sacred day, the day stretches to reach the sacred community. A Protogrove weaves itself together by making that public High Day available and accessible, and sometimes that does mean bending a bit so that the community can come together. I’d love to do perfectly timed rites — but it would mean ignoring the world we live in, and the needs of those whose work isn’t 8-5 M-F with three weeks off a year. I expect a larger turnout by planning for the 15th, and look forward to seeing many of the faces from last month again.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to work on completing those plans; some fool moved the equinox rite up.

*In case you ever meet Earrach, his name is pronounced Eric, not Ear-ache. Thankfully, I figured this out before he figured out I was trying to address him.

An “Ill-met” Imbolc

Saturday’s Imbolc was great; seven attended in total, the largest turnout since the official start of the Protogrove. I, however, was a bit miserable. Not because of Imbolc itself, though.

At 4:30am on Friday, I was sick. I found myself so weakened that I took Friday off of work. As I rested, I wondered about the Imbolc rite the next day. I knew, at this stage in the Protogrove’s development, that it could not go on without me. Should I cancel it, even though I knew there was interest? Could I cancel it, given that the notice went out to many people who I had no idea if they planned to attend or not?

I decided that the rite must go on. The illness was the sort likely to largely pass within a day. If I was well and truly unable to go the next day, I would contact those who I knew would attend and encourage an improvised solution. Besides, Brighid is a goddess of healing, and I could certainly use some.

I made two concessions to my illness. The first was to give up looking for the bag of tealights I had intended to have blessed during the Workings section and give out; being very weak on Friday meant that my usual advance preparation time was reduced. The second was to bring along cups for the Waters of Life. In times past we’ve simply passed a horn or cup around, but I wanted to do my best to avoid spreading my germs to anyone else. I’d been meaning to try individual cups, but hadn’t done so before — now it was necessary.

Preparations were definitely a bit rushed by my need for extra rest and inability to prepare the night before; still, I arrived at the UU fellowship second, and let everyone in. (The first person to arrive had done so surprisingly early.) In addition to the two UU regulars, two more occasional attendees and two new people showed up. The newcomers brought along “Persephone’s Milk”, a buttermilk-and-juice-based beverage that we decided to use as the Waters of Life.

We set up in the reserved room, which fit us well after some rearranging of the furniture. The setup seemed to take extra long; I don’t know if it was my own reduced energy or just my perception of time with new attendees present. After an extra long pre-ritual briefing due to discussion and extra time spent practicing the “chants” we would use, we began. Almost everyone chose to take at least one part, so the rite flowed swiftly by while I made certain everyone had any supplies or tools they needed at hand. Persephone’s Milk, though a little a-cultural in name, tasted a lot like Kefir, and with its active cultures was probably an ideal Waters of Life for my digestive system in its state. Only a very small amount wound up consumed by the tapestry I had thrown over the table. Some of those attending had brought offerings for Brighid; in fact, all offerings made during the General Praise Offerings were to Her, which isn’t always the case in this group. (Now there hangs a subject for a long entry.)

The biggest performance hink during the rite was my not properly cueing up a grain offering, which was notable mostly in that I’d been very on top of the requisite offerings. There were a few other, more minor things. I forgot the fire-plate for the fire. Also, I didn’t explicitly go over the idea of “Person 1: X, accept this offering. All: X, accept this offering.” so it wound up slightly off at first as everyone tried to say it simultaneously. Finally, there were the usual issues some have reading off a script.

As for the omen, the first acceptance omen was Nauthiz (Need). I saw this as a no, but did not see it as a personal push to do anything — closer to a more please. Since I had not known exactly what resources people would bring, I had brought with me a surfeit of libations, so I offered Brighid “the closest thing to Guinness I have with me”. Others made additional offerings from supplies they had with them, some surprising given the discussion during the pre-ritual briefing about offerings passing out of human use. I drew another rune and received Algiz (Elk) which I perceived as a yes, given the mentions of the protective aspects of Brighid in the ritual text.

For the blessings from the Ancestors, I drew Othala (Ancestral Lands), Gebo (Gift), and Dagaz (Day); I interpreted this as getting in touch with our ancestral gifts and power, but I wasn’t entirely happy with this interpretation, though nothing further has sprung to mind.

For the Nature Spirits, I drew Fehu (Cattle), Laguz (Lake), and Wunjo (Joy); I saw this as great productivity for the coming year, though flexibility would be required.

Finally, for the Gods and Goddesses I drew Mannaz (Man), Jera (Year), Ansuz (Gods; the God Odin), and Tiewaz (the God Tyr) also came out. I took this as a rebalancing in communication with others in the coming year; an attendee made a comment about “Three Gods of the Year” which I’m not entirely certain I understand, even after later discussion. (It might have been that I wasn’t 100% yet, health-wise.)

Afterward, everyone helped clean up and we all chatted a bit before heading our separate ways. The Persephone’s Milk sat calmly in my belly, and though I was still a little tired and a little out of it, I felt good as I headed home.